Thursday, October 11, 2012

Are You to Blame For Your Identity Theft


Approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year costing up to $50 billion. Identity theft still exists as a large problem in America. Identity theft crimes have expanded and include stealing purses or wallets, laptops, cell phones, going through trash, stealing mail, using social media, writing bad checks, stealing electricity service, government benefits, tax refunds, insurance, fraudulent loans and more. 

I also consider identity theft when a company automatically setups up a recurring payment when you pay a bill with a credit or debit card.  I view this as an unauthorized use.  If you did not sign a statement authorizing setup of a recurring payment then it is unauthorized.  This happened to me a few times.  I called my bank and they informed me that a company can automatically setup it after you use a credit or debit card only one time.  You have to call the company and cancel it.  This puts consumers at risk for identity theft.

Another feature that puts consumers at risk is when shopping online.  Most companies automatically save your credit card or debit card information and personal information when shopping online. Companies claim this makes it easier for consumers to make purchases in the future but what if you only visit the site once, now they have your personal information which is at risk for identity theft.  Consumers should have to opt in to save their personal information such as: name, address, phone number, email address, DOB, SSN, payment information, etc. 

In some cases, many consumers make it a little easier for thieves to steal their information.  According to data scientist Nick Berry, founder of Data Genetics, “if users select a 4-digit password for an online account or other web site, it's not a stretch to use the same number for their four-digit bank PIN codes”.

He analyzed approximately 350,000 passwords. The most common 4-digit password used was “1234”, the next common was “1111” and the next common was “0000”.  Many of the commonly used passwords are dates:  birthdays, anniversaries, year of birth, etc.  When creating a password avoid using repeating number of letters, avoid using numbers in sequence, i.e. 5678 or a relative’s first name.

Victims of identity theft can lose anywhere from $200 up to thousands of dollars.  Some victims never recover.  Protect your personal information as you would your life.   Here are 40 ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

General Advice

  1. Don’t store passwords in your phone, wallet or purse.  Don’t write passwords on a post-it note.
  2. Create passwords with letters, numbers, one special character and one uppercase letter.
  3. Get familiar with the privacy policy of each company you do business with.  Some retail stores don’t require a signature for purchases of $50 or less.
  4. Protect your children’s identity.
  5. Don't text or store your personal information such as credit card, financial account numbers, DOB, SSN on your cell phones or in an unsecure place such as work, your purse or wallet.  Don’t make purchases using your blackberry or cell phone.
  6. Verify your bank statements and online accounts at least once a week to make sure your account has not compromised.
  7. Shred all junk mail, financial statements and documents that contain your personal information.
  8. Create a password on your bank accounts when performing transactions in a branch and when calling the automated number or customer service to verify your identity.
  9. Don’t trust caller id. Skip giving out personal information over the phone unless it is someone you do business with.  Ask for their direct number and call back to give your information to ensure it is a real company.
  10. Install virus protection on your computer and smartphone.  Use email protection such as Spam Assassin, Barracuda or Mailwasher to minimize spoof emails.
  11. Pay for items with cash and use credit cards for emergencies only.
  12. Skip carrying your SSN or birth certificate in your wallet. Carry only the credit card you know you will use on a specific day.
  13. Go with your gut, it something doesn’t sound right or feel right, chances are you should avoid doing it.

  1. Don't leave outgoing mail in an unlocked mailbox. Drop off outgoing mail in a regularly visited collection box or take it directly to the post office.
  2. Install a lock on your mailbox.
  3. Don't leave post office boxes full, empty them frequently especially on the weekends.
  4. Pick up newly ordered checks directly from your bank or have them delivered by postal mail.
  5. Shred canceled checks.
  6. Print a return address on all outgoing mail that contains a check. A forged signature can be traced.
  7. Do not leave blank spaces on the payee or amount lines.
  8. If you must write checks don’t write checks for everyday purchases, use only for paying bills.
  9. When ordering checks don't place your SSN or phone number on your checks.  Use your first initial of your first name and the first initial of your last name on your checks, i.e. L. J.  (for Lisa Jones) instead of spelling out your full name.
  10. When signing your checks for deposit, don't put your account number on the back of your check   Just sign your name.
  11. When writing checks to pay bills for your credit card accounts don't enter your full credit card number on your check.  You can enter just the last 4 digits to identity yourself as a customer.

  1. Only shop at well-known website such as Amazon, eBay or  Shop online at secure websites that use https or shttp.
  2. Beware of camera phones.  Someone standing behind you in line can take a picture of your credit card and use your credit card without your knowledge.
  3. When shopping online at a public computer or shared computer – at work, etc. Clear the cookies and browsing history.  This prevents a hacker or dishonest person from viewing the websites you viewed and accessing your personal information.
  4. Don't leave browser windows open and walk away when entering your personal or financial information on a shared computer.

Social Media/GPS
  1. Reduce using GPS on your cell phone. If satellite can track your location so can thieves.
  2. Disable geotagging on your smartphone, cellphone and camera.
  3. Adjust your privacy settings and stay abreast of privacy settings for social media sites.
  4. Adjust the privacy settings on your computer when uploading photos to the internet, the company’s web site or via an application.
  5. Avoid providing updates such as “I am out of town”, “I am in Miami”, “No one is home”, etc.
  6. Avoid providing personal information such as DOB, SSN, address, work address, credit or debit card number, parents address, work email address, etc.
  7. Clear history and cache on a regular basis when using the internet on smartphones and pc’s.
  8. When using GPS devices or applications don’t label your home or work address as “home”, “work”.  If you lose the device or phone thieves will quickly be able to find out where you live or work.

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